December 7, 2022

Tel Aviv, Israel (AFP) – Israeli and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip exchanged fire on Saturday in the worst wave of cross-border violence since the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas last year.

Israeli air strikes killed 11 people, including a senior commander of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who was killed in a targeted attack.

This came after the arrest of another prominent leader of the Islamic Jihad movement in the West Bank this week in an Israeli operation that lasted for months to arrest Palestinians suspected of committing attacks.

Militants fired dozens of rockets at Israeli cities and towns, disrupting the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Here’s a look at the latest round of violence:

in the shadow of enthusiasm

Islamic Jihad is the smaller of the two main Palestinian militant movements in the Gaza Strip, and is widely superior to the ruling Hamas movement. But it enjoys direct financial and military support from Iran, and has become the driving force for engaging in missile attacks and other confrontations with Israel.

Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007 from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, is often limited in its ability to act because it has the responsibility to run the day-to-day affairs of the impoverished territories. Islamic Jihad has no such duties and has emerged as a more hardline faction, sometimes even undermining Hamas’ authority.

The group was founded in 1981 with the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and all of what is now Israel. It has been designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department, the European Union, and other governments. Islamic Jihad, like Hamas, swears to destroy Israel.

Iranian contact

Israel’s archenemy Iran provides Islamic Jihad with training, experience, and money, but most of the group’s weapons are locally produced. In recent years, it has developed an arsenal of weapons equal to that of Hamas, with long-range missiles capable of striking the Tel Aviv metropolitan area in central Israel. Sirens went off in the southern Tel Aviv suburbs on Friday, although the area did not appear to have been hit by rockets.

Although its base is Gaza, Islamic Jihad has a command in Beirut and Damascus, where it maintains close ties with Iranian officials.

Ziad al-Nakhala, the movement’s supreme leader, was in Tehran to meet with Iranian officials when Israel began its operation in Gaza on Friday.

Target leaders

This is not the first time that Israel has killed the leaders of Islamic Jihad in Gaza. The commander who was killed on Friday, Taysir al-Jabari, replaced Baha Abu al-Atta, who was killed by Israel in a raid in 2019. His death was the first high-profile assassination of an Islamic Jihad figure by Israel since the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip.

Jabari, 50, was a member of Islamic Jihad’s “military council,” the group’s decision-making body in Gaza. He was responsible for Islamic Jihad’s activities in Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip during the 2021 war. Israel said he was preparing to launch an anti-tank missile attack on Israel.

His death came on the heels of Israel’s arrest of a prominent Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank earlier this week. Bassam al-Saadi, 62, is a senior official in the Islamic Jihad movement in the northern West Bank. According to Israeli media, Al-Saadi was working to deepen the group’s influence in the West Bank and expand its capabilities.

Al-Saadi spent a total of 15 years over several terms in Israeli prisons for being an active member of Islamic Jihad. Israel killed two of his sons, who were also Islamic Jihad operatives, in separate incidents in 2002, and destroyed his home during a fierce battle in the West Bank city of Jenin in the same year.

“Once the commanders are hit, it will immediately affect the whole organization,” said Zvika Haimovich, the former head of the Israel Defense Forces.

“Immediately create great chaos in the jihad.”

delicate balance

Since seizing power in 2007, Hamas has fought four wars with Israel, often with the support of Islamic Jihad fighters. Aside from the escalation earlier this year, the border has been largely quiet since last year’s 11-day war and Hamas appears to have remained on the sidelines of this current wildfire, which could prevent it from spreading into an all-out war.

Islamic Jihad militants have challenged Hamas, often without claiming responsibility, to fire rockets to show its standing among the Palestinians while Hamas maintains a ceasefire. Israel holds Hamas responsible for firing rockets from Gaza.

Hamas must walk a tightrope between reining in Islamic Jihad’s fire on Israel and avoiding the wrath of the Palestinians if it suppresses the movement. As in previous upheavals, Hamas will have the final say on how long – and to what extent – this round of fighting will continue.

head care

The current fighting comes as Israel plunges into a protracted political crisis that sends voters to the polls for the fifth time in less than four years in the fall.

Caretaker leader Yair Lapid took over earlier this summer after the ideologically diverse government he helped form collapsed, leading to new elections.

Lapid, a centrist former TV presenter and writer, lacks the security background that many Israelis see as essential to their leadership. His political fortunes could depend on the current fighting, either gaining a boost if he could portray himself as a capable leader or taking a hit from a long operation as the Israelis try to enjoy their final summer weeks.

Lapid hopes to disqualify former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk on trial on corruption charges, in the upcoming elections.


Akram responded from Gaza City in the Gaza Strip. Associated Press contributor Emily Rose in Jerusalem.

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